Should You Attend a Book Publishing Conference?

Book publishing conference - Businesswoman handing business cards out
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Book publishing conferences can be great places for writers to learn how to get their books in the hands of more readers and to connect with agents, editors, and fellow writers or fans. But traveling to conferences can be expensive, and you don't want to return from one feeling like you've wasted a thousand dollars or more. To figure out whether a particular conference is worth attending, consider these factors.

Important Goals

Conferences can have different focuses depending on their main purpose. Some are all about networking with industry professionals while others are mainly opportunities to meet existing fans or potential readers.

Think about what you would most like to get out of a conference. Do your goals include any of the following elements? If so, be sure a particular conference will give you the opportunity to meet one or several of those goals.

  • Developing or deepening your writing or book marketing skills: Look for a conference with hands-on instruction, such as small-group breakout sessions, in those particular areas.
  • Getting individual attention from an expert: Make sure the conference you choose includes Q&A sessions after panels or, better yet, the opportunity to sign up for one-on-one consultations.
  • Better understanding the current book publishing marketplace and where and how your work fits into the trends: Assess the speakers and panelists. Look for a mix of working professionals from traditional publishers, self-publishers, literary agencies, booksellers, and ebook distributors.
  • Opportunities to make contact with literary agents or book editors: Make sure they will be in attendance, and review the schedule to see whether there will be networking events.
  • Selling books to fans and having an opportunity to sign them and build continued customer loyalty: A key component of the conference should be meet-and-greet time for authors like yourself to connect with readers, including those who are new to your writing but might become loyal fans.
  • A chance to connect with like-minded book authors for camaraderie or moral support: Look for networking events like cocktail parties or group meals which will offer opportunities to interact with peers.

Speakers and Discussion Topics

Figuring out whether a conference's speakers, panelists and their topics of discussion will be of use to you might take a bit of research. Look beyond the bios and research the speakers online to determine the following:

  • Are there people at the conference with experiences or skills you're excited to learn from?
  • Do the topics covered by these professionals at seminars and panels jibe with what you need right now?
  • Are the sessions given by people who've "been there," boast a number of years of experience in the topic they're speaking about, and have something to teach you?

Commitment of Resources

Conferences are an investment, especially when you add travel, hotel, and meals. Even if you have the ready cash, think of all the resources necessary to leverage your investment (not only money but time and energy), and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you see true value in this conference for your investment of money?
  • Does your schedule allow time for you to prepare for and get the most out of the conference?
  • Do your existing commitments leave you with enough energy to be "on" and "up" for the conference?
  • Is your latest written material—book proposal, novel manuscript, or children's book pages—ready to be reviewed by others?
  • Are your marketing materials (website, business cards) in good enough shape that if an editor or agent looks you up, you are putting your most professional writer self forward?
  • Do you have the time to responsibly follow up with the contacts you will be making?
  • Would your time and energy honestly be better spent actually writing and having something to show for the next conference?